IMHO

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Borderlands ed. Stephen Dedman et al

Okay, so it's been closer to a month than the week promised between reviews, but be glad, I'm finally committing thought to screen.

I'm sick. I have, it seems, tonsillitis, even though my tonsils were removed from their resting place about 27 years ago. So, I'm confined to bed while we wait for the antibiotics to take effect. I've slept, I've dreamed (one dream in particular being about Rob Hood who turned into Nicko about half way through) and I've read.

Today I managed to get through the entire issue of Borderlands 5. Now, I haven't read issue 4 yet, mainly because there seemed to be a fair amount of discussion as to the identity of the worst story in the issue. Battboy hasn't opened this particular issue, so I thought I'd get my impressions off the ground before listening to his. During the recent Swancon, the people at Borderlands put out an appeal for happier endings and after closing the final page on this issue, I can see why. With one exception, there’s not a happy ending amongst them (I’m not going to tell you which one ends nicely). Personally, I don’t have a problem with this. I could cut off three fingers from each hand and still count the number of happy endings Battboy and I have written between us. Yes, we’re more about cooking kittens than writing about them.

The first thing I do, with anything I plan to read (eat, drink) is scan the back cover. Borderlands, I was pleased to note, is pretty balanced with authors I’ve heard of and those I haven’t. I devoured the stories of the authors I knew, because I pretty much knew what to expect, and gracefully tasted the authors I didn’t in the hope of discovering something wonderful.

Of those I know (and I’m talking about fiction here, I’ll leave the non-fiction well enough alone) my favourite is Martin Livings. I’ve published him several times in both ASIM and TiconderogaOnline. Martin has a way of making me giggle over the dark side comparable to Simon Oxwell’s ability to make me giggle over sexually-driven words. There is something unique about Martin’s voice that keeps me listening. His story “Hooked” took an old tale and made it contemporary. The only problem with it, I felt, is that it reached a point where it seemed to bludgeon you into understanding the subtext. I realised the story’s intent about two pages in and felt quite smug for doing so. When I write, I like to feed bits and pieces, to make my reader work for the story. Martin appeared to do this. After a while, however, it seems he wavered in his belief of the audience. This was when subtlety flew out the window.I love Martin Livings. I make no secret of the fact that I’m his biggest fan (well, apart from Dr Iz). I think he has amazing ideas and executes them well. I do think he’d do well to enlist the help of an editor (I flinched over the heavy use of the ‘dreaded ly’s’ ) but this comes down to my own personal taste (yes, I’m an adjective Nazi). Of all the stories in this issue of Borderlands, “Hooked” is my favourite.

Now, onto some others.

Another author I’m familiar with is Kyla Ward. I loved “Kijin Tea” (Agog! Terrific Tales ed. Cat Sparks) and was really looking forward to getting into her story “The Oracle of Brick and Bone”. I have to say, I was a little disappointed. I don’t want to sound critical of a fellow author, but I felt that Kyla couldn’t quite grasp whether the piece was meant to be Speculative Fiction or a murder mystery. Neither element was particularly strong and I couldn’t really respond to the plot on either level. I didn’t really care about any of the characters, including the little girl in the suitcase. The protagonist spends much of the story saying “why?” but in the end he doesn’t really seem to care either.
Another weakness lies in the main character himself. Murray Barter is, obviously, a man. I know this because the text tells me so. The dialogue, however, betrays him as having a feminine voice. There’s one line in particular that pulled me out of the story. “They’re saying it might have been her father,” he said, “and that’s horrible.”
Murray spends most of the story fretting over the death of a four year old girl and the worst he can come up with is ‘horrible’?I’m sorry, I just don’t believe a tough man of the streets would say it like that. It’s too contrived, too passive. Don’t get me wrong. There were elements within the story I really enjoyed. The interplay of word and sense for instance. Murray basically follows graffiti scratchings through a maze of streets whereupon he comes across the bodies. I loved this. Kyla relies upon her audience’s senses to garner impressions such as “The clouds were white hot. Opposite him, two identical apartment blocks rose from the landscape. They swam in the milky haze…” This worked for me, because I could relate to the non-reality of the set scenery. My favourite line in the whole issue came from this story: “Insomnia had never been so much a disorder as a habit with Murray.”
Okay, I think the line is a little clumsy, but it works. As an insomniac I get this.

And onwards I continue. Bob Franklin is an author I haven’t read before, but whom I will be looking for in the future. “Other” is a tale simple and ordinary in its intent. Don’t do drugs. It’s that obvious. And yet the delivery is very powerful. I’m still thinking about the ramifications as I write this.

As I mentioned I felt the issue as a whole worked well. Paul Haines’ "The Light in Autumn’s Leaves” was both clever and beautiful. I published Paul’s “Hamlyn” in ASIM 11 and so was expecting a morose piece at the very least. This story wasn’t at all like “Hamlyn” except that it was very well written. Paul is an accomplished writer and clever at his craft.

The last story I’m going to comment upon is “Degrees of Separation” by Richard Kerslake. I started this story last Monday. I was spending a day of my ‘honeymoon’ in hospital due to a second degree burn obtained while making up Connor’s bottle. I was NOT in a good frame of mind. Yet, this story was enough to momentarily distract me from the pain of the burn and the inadequacy of the WA Health System. I loved the plot, centred around the premise that we are all separated from everyone else in the world by a mere six degrees.
This story hooked me so well that I found the lack of mobility of my right hand to be a total encumbrance. Normally I would have waited until better circumstances to read the story, but this time I couldn’t. I resolutely held the magazine in my left hand and turned the pages with my teeth. Finally Battboy noticed my ordeal and turned the pages for me as necessary. I loved this story, for the most part, but I have to say, I felt the ending was a little rushed. Somewhere in the final few paragraphs I stopped caring about the main character and his situation.

To me, a good story is one that I’m still thinking about after I’ve put the book down. The ones I’ve listed are the ones that stood out for me hours after I finished reading Borderlands 5. They’re the reason I rose from my bed and tapped out this review. All in all I say “well done” to the team at Borderlands and to the authors they published.

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